Rhiannon Wilmott will be serving her curacy at St Paul’s Winchester having trained for ordination through the Winchester School of Mission. She generously shared her story about hearing the call to ordained ministry in the most unlikely of places!
Rhiannon grew up in Botley until age 12 and experienced a happy childhood until, in her own words, she found herself “suddenly on shifting sand”. “My nan, who I was really close to, died when I was 12 and then a month later my parents split up. My mother got cancer for the first time, and then got together with a new partner, making me suddenly part of a reconstituted family. I became a persistent truant from school and subsequently didn’t get great GCSEs. When my mother moved away, I went to live in a caravan in my aunt’s garden.”
Rhiannon found herself a teenager in inner city Southampton. “My aunty was an organist at the local church and so I got a little bit of paid work singing in the choir at weddings. My grandfather was a vicar and that was always in the back of my mind. I would go to church but it never quite stuck.”
At 19 years old, having had her son, she again got involved in church through a toddler group, but again it didn’t become an integral part of her life. And yet somehow, age 21, she found herself sitting in an interview at the Job Centre as part of the ‘New Deal for Lone Parents’ scheme, saying “I think I am meant to be a vicar”. “The woman interviewing me just laughed, and I laughed, and then she got me a job at HM Customs and Excise!”
It was then several years later, aged 29, by which point Rhiannon also had a daughter, when she got involved in the preschool in St Denys Church in Southampton where she lived, which coincided with meeting her then boyfriend (now husband) who gently encouraged her into church life. “It was such a different experience of being in a relationship. He would pray for me in tough moments. And so I got more and more involved in church – I met people who were so real and down to earth and who encouraged me to be myself in my faith. Then I started Messy Church and Godly Play sessions at St Denys and from doing that I got a job as the Children and Families Worker at Romsey Abbey”.
It was at Romsey Abbey that people began to ask her if she’d ever thought about being ordained. “I didn’t take much persuading – there was a big part of me that shouted YES! to that question! But it took me a long time to get through the process – I realise I had a lot to learn about myself and about God and about scripture… but I’m here now!”
Rhiannon looks at her life and her journey to ordination and sees God’s hand throughout. “All of the things that happen to us, God uses them to shape us and for good, even when they don’t feel good. I have learned to inhabit the story of who I am, all the beauty and the learning, rather than blaming people. I am thankful for it all.”
Jamie Cann will be serving as his title at St Barnabas Church Winchester as an Self-Supporting Minister. He told us about how his sense of vocations extends to both being both a vicar and continuing his secular work in HR…
“I think all Christians are called to ministry, but some people are licensed,” says Jamie in describing his calling to being a Christian in the workplace. “And being ordained as a Self-Supporting minister means I can be a bridge between the worlds of church and the workplace.”
Indeed Jamie has found many opportunities to bring the love of God into his work context as an HR Manager in a public sector organisation. “In HR you get to walk with people in the key moments of their lives – when they are bereaved, or just found out they are pregnant, or being made redundant. It’s very much felt like a calling to create safe spaces for people in these moments and being prepared to listen to people of all faiths and none.”
But Jamie’s calling to priestly ministry has felt simultaneously equally strong throughout his life, something he first sensed when just a child. “I remember being aged 7 acting out the Call of Samuel in a school assembly. I recall being under a blanket saying “Speak, Lord, your servant is listening” and this reflecting a deep spiritual call in my own life. I began going around telling people that I was going to be a vicar!”
This sense of vocation stayed with Jamie all the way through his childhood and teenage years, during which time he served regularly as an acolyte in his home church in Ealing, West London, as well as in his school chapel. As soon as he could, aged 18, Jamie went to talk to his DDO (vocations officer) who told him to come back when he had a bit more life experience! “So instead I went to university in Winchester to study learning disabilities, but I remember thinking that my aim was always to get as much experience as possible that would equip me for ordained ministry.”
Fast forward 30 years, with a long period in the middle serving in a free evangelical church, including in families and student ministry, Jamie’s sense of calling has now evolved to where he is now – offering himself to the priesthood as an SSM so he can continue his work in the public sector. Reflecting on how this has changed over the years, Jamie says: “I feel I now occupy a liminal space between the secular and sacred worlds – and I now see that this is exactly God’s plan and where I am meant to be!”